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Rahm Emanuel: School closings ‘difficult’ decision

Mayor Rahm Emanuel during press conference U.S. Bank 1000 E. 111th St. Chicago Ill. Saturday March 23 2013. | Andrew

Mayor Rahm Emanuel during a press conference at U.S. Bank, 1000 E. 111th St., in Chicago, Ill., on Saturday, March 23, 2013. | Andrew A. Nelles~Sun-Times Media

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INTERACTIVE MAP: Schools CPS has tabbed for closing mapped against poverty levels
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Updated: April 25, 2013 7:23AM

Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Saturday said the “difficult” decision to close 54 Chicago elementary schools was not a matter officials took lightly.

Speaking publicly for the first time regarding the shake-up that will jostle 30,000 students, the mayor said he had been in constant communication with both his staff and Chicago Public Schools administrators as he vacationed with his family this week.

“This has been very difficult... There is a lot of anguish and I understand that and I appreciate it,” said Emanuel, who appeared to have windburn from his Utah skiing trip.

“But the anguish and the pain that comes from making the change is less amenable, in my view, or pales compared to the anguish that comes by trapping children in schools that are not succeeding, and trapping children in schools that don’t give them the opportunities that will open the doors to the future.”

Emanuel said the city has failed to provide every child with a quality education regardless of where they live, and the decision to close the schools all at once was made carefully, and not with just a budget in mind.

“Everybody on the board did not look at this decision as numbers on a spreadsheet,” the mayor said. “We looked at it and viewed it as what can we do to have every child have a high quality education regardless of their neighborhood, regardless of their circumstances, regardless of where they live.”

The mayor made his comments while announcing the next phase in the $135 million Pullman Park development project that will create 1,000 retail jobs and add a Walmart in a neighborhood where retail and food stores are scarce.

The 11.5 acre site near the northwest corner of 111th Street and the Bishop Ford Expressway will feature a 148,000 square foot Walmart Supercenter, restaurants, a 10-acre-park and up to 1,100 housing units. The project will generate 1,000 permanent jobs and more than 700 construction jobs, said Emanuel, who was joined by Ald. Anthony Beale (9th).

“The 9th ward, 60628 is no longer considered a food desert,” the alderman said.

“We’re going to continue to heal the community from within because we all know cancer, asthma, diabetes have direct correlation as far as having access to fresh produce.”

Standing outside the US Bank building near the development, Wendy Katten, founder of Raise Your Hand, said parents are “terrified” about student safety as students walk to a new school.

“Safe passage is just one piece of the issue, getting to school,” Katten said. “Being in a school where there our three or four gang factions, which we can attest to from parents we work with, is a huge problem.”

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